At times, the trophy shine of success was noticeable in the eyes of the Florida Atlantic basketball players and threatened to creep into the sequel of their Final Four trip last spring.
So, as Owls coach Dusty May considered how to address the issue, he sought someone who wrote the book on the subject. Miami Heat president Pat Riley was at FAU for the Heat’s training camp last month, too.
“We talked about his book,” May said of Riley’s, “The Winner Within,” that dealt with the overcoming success and, “The Disease of Me.”
“Everybody wants a little more after a season like we had, whether it’s credit, respect, playing time, shots, role — when you have success you naturally want more,” May said. “It’s not something we’re critical of. It’s something we have to be aware of and find ways to combat.”
Do you see how it’s all changed for FAU? How it went from unknown last November to a preseason No. 10 ranking this year with a schedule with some of the country’s blue bloods?
It sold out season tickets in the feel-good of last season, including an added courtside row at $3,000 a pop. It added a Name-Image-and-Likeness sugar daddy in Brian Wedding, the CEO of RoofClaim.com, whose sprinkled money made it easier to return last year’s starting lineup.
As May talked Tuesday afternoon, he was in a Chicago hotel breaking down film to show before Wednesday’s opener against Loyola University and it’s good-luck charm, Sister Jean.
That’s part of an upgraded schedule that includes playing Butler in Orlando, Arizona in Las Vegas and a return to Madison Square Garden, home of their Sweet 16 trip, as part of the Jimmy V Classic with Illinois, Connecticut and North Carolina.
“It’s night and day,” forward Alijah Martin said of this season’s start compared to last season. “This is the first year we feel like FAU is up there with the big guys. Last year didn’t look anything like this.”
That includes the move to the American Athletic Conference, whose radically remade members include Memphis, Tulsa and Southern Methodist.
The preseason favorite: FAU. That’s an easy call when you return the starting lineup from a Final Four team. The only missing player from last year is Broward’s Michael Forrest, the sixth man from last season who is playing in Europe, another example of this program’s success.
All this means is FAU graduates from a charming story last March to one with national expectations. The question then becomes what the school wants this to develop into, if anything.
May signed a 10-year contract, a notable commitment but one that can be sidestepped for a larger job if wanted. The simple dot to connect is FAU becoming Gonzaga of the East, a small-name school and basketball powerhouse.
The problem with that comparison is Gonzaga plays in a 6,000-seat arena, not one half that size, and flies in a private plane to games in a show of the program’s wealth. Does FAU want to invest to play like that? Can it?
Now is the time to decide, with this coach in place with this team in this intriguing time. This season will have its challenges, but they’re ones of success, of a team that knows it should be good. The hurdles are more than the disease-of-me stuff, too.
“The one thing I noted in scrimmages is we were disappointed if were were not up by a lot early on,” May said. “That’s one thing to combat. We can’t think we are head-and-shoulders above anyone last year, but we just stayed more steady, more consistent.
“Our approach can’t change. Hopefully, we’re a little better than last year. Everyone worked over the summer to get better, and hopefully that shows up.”
May feels the usual excitement before this next season. But he finds himself, “Curious more than anything else,” he said. “This is a special group. We know we’re going to have some bumps in the road. We know how we have to respond.”
Last November, FAU won its opener against Lynn University. It then won 21 of its next to preview the them that announced itself to the nation last March. That team’s back now, almost all of it, and the only question now is how it handles success and the national stage that came with it.